So, my Molly Keane reading project continues. I feel, however, that I've not done justice to her second novel Young Entry, which was written when she was just nineteen and published in 1928. My haphazard reading style of late completely disrupted the continuity of the story. Perhaps in this case it didn't really matter, though, as there wasn't much plot to speak of. I think I can almost sum the story up in just two simple words: The Hunt.
It's maybe a little weird that I should choose Molly Keane as an author of great fascination, whose work I want to read my way through, considering my ambivalence toward the sport of hunting. My introduction to Molly Keane came earlier this year when I read Two Days in Aragon, which I sadly did not write about but absolutely loved. I do plan on rereading it again later as I make my way through her novels in the order of their publication. While it also had elements of the sporting life in it (which I have a feeling is a signature of Keane's), there was so much more to the story. It was a matter of loving her novel in spite of all the hunting rather than because of it. I think when dealing with the Anglo-Irish Aristocracy there is no getting around this aspect of their lives.
I've not been able to find a full length biography of Molly Keane yet (not sure one exists?), so I've been gleaning bits and pieces about her life and personality through the introductions to her works (all published by Virago Press), an obituary that appeared in The Independent and of course her books which must surely draw on her life experiences. She was born in 1904 and raised primarily in Cork and Waterford, Ireland, though her earliest years were spent in Bath. Apparently she had an unhappy childhood as her mother loved her least of all her siblings. She was also disliked by the other girls at school which caused her to feel a sense of isolation that is perhaps at least in part why her earliest novels were penned under the name of M.J. Farrell. She was mortified by the thought of her hunting friends knowing she was publishing books. By the way her pen name was borrowed from a local pub! Living in the early decades of the twentieth century in Ireland must have been difficult considering the tumultuous nature of politics of the day (to say the least!). Per her obituary:
"But her family area of East Cork and Waterford was perhaps less dramatically affected by these events (the 1916 Easter Uprising and the Black and Tan war) than some parts of the country, and after 1922 the traditional life of what were universally known as the Horse Protestants resumed, even if many participants were impoverished and had to resort to second-hand riding boots. It was in the comedy of these years, where a good deal of 'nipping' between the bedrooms of the different sexes took place, that she found the raw material for her first books."
She took up writing to help fund her lifestyle, which included lots and lots of hunting. She'd sell a book and then be able to stay with friends and keep up her sporting ways. At the time one could get by living this life without having to depend on large cash reserves. As I have a keen interest in the interwar period and to some degree an interest in this fading aristocratic lifestyle (actually the whole social structure of the period), it's not really all that surprising that I would be so curious about Molly Keane's world and particularly her novels, which are such close representations of it.
"It was a simple, straightforwardly hedonistic world; dancing was to the wind-up gramophone; White Ladies were drunk before dinner, hardly anyone opened a book."
It also helps that Keane is such an excellent observer who could translate this world so pitch perfectly into novels. The descriptions of place and particularly the natural world can be quite captivating in Keane's hands. And if you are into the thrill of the chase, I think she will keep you on the edge of your seat. She wrote what she knew and you can tell it in her writing.
"The texture of Molly Keane's prose is like a Matthew Smith painting, voluptuous, sumptuously rich and curvy; her empathy with nature, her feeling for the changing of the seasons, of dawn through to midnight, has been, from the beginning, one of her great strengths as a writer. You can touch a Farrell/Keane countryside, and you can smell it."
So what exactly is Young Entry about? It is by and large about the hunting life, something Keane knew about intimately. As a young woman writing this novel, she wrote about the things that concerned her at the time. A woman of her age and class would have spent her days hunting, going to parties, dancing and flirting. Nineteen year old Prudence is being raised by her three very conservative guardians. Something of an heiress she'll soon come into her money, but she's kept in check until then. Or at least her guardians try to keep her in check. Prudence is a far more carefree spirit and spends time with her best girl friend, Peter, having little adventures and just being young and lively and generally getting into little mishaps. Trouble pops up in the form of one Major Anthony Countless from England, who becomes the new Master of Hounds. While Prudence is very lovely and social, she's the type of woman who isn't aware of her beauty or its effect on young men. Moreover she's more interested in her dogs and horses than in said young men. Peter, however, welcomes Tony's overtures, so you can imagine where all this will lead and how it might come between the two friends.
I wouldn't have minded more of the social over the sporty in this story, but I still found it a charming read. Although not much happens really, things do come to a head at the end and there is a climactic scene which ties things up nicely. I suppose this is in fact a story of romance, though not exactly in the sense the average reader thinks of a romance. Young Entry was first published by Mills and Boon (am guessing this is the equivalent of our Harlequin?), which really started Keane's writing career. I'm looking forward to seeing how she grows as a writer as I believe this book is still considered part of her "juvenile" work. Next up is Taking Chances, which sounds a little 'meatier' in terms of plot. It's already on my bedside table and I can't wait to start reading!